The board of Greater Grays Harbor Inc. unanimously voted to support all the school levies that are up for approval this election cycle at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23. We did this not just because we believe it is essential to student quality of life to have extracurricular activities and enrichment programs, though we do. The board voted unanimously because there is a strong economic argument to be made that passing the school levies is essential to building and strengthening business and industry to make our community more prosperous.
The first economic argument is about getting more than you pay for. When school levies pass in Grays Harbor County, the state kicks in additional Levy Equalization Funds to help make up for the fact that we have low property values. The Aberdeen School District receives an extra $2.4 million per year over what the taxpayers of that district pay, which is a big boost to their bottom line. In fact, the levy and the equalization funds together make up 22 percent of the ASD’s entire annual budget, and 23 percent of Hoquiam School District’s.
The second economic argument is that the levy funds, in large part, support local jobs. Counselors, classroom assistants and some teachers have their positions entirely funded by levy dollars. So do custodians, food service, tech support, substitutes, office staff and coaching positions. These are local, family-wage jobs held by local people that contribute to the local economy. Losing these jobs would be another blow to our economy.
A third economic argument is that our schools, with levy dollars, are helping our students become the kind of employees employers want to hire and the kind of entrepreneurs our community needs for its future. Levy dollars pay for new curriculum materials — textbooks, instructional materials, technology and more. We have some top-notch programs that are supported by these upgrades — particularly relevant to our board is the Career and Technical Education program. In Aberdeen’s Twin Harbors Skills Center, which reaches students from around the Harbor, award-winning, nationally-recognized programs that are giving our kids a leg up in their college, apprenticeship and job applications, rely on the updated curriculum and technology to keep its competitive edge.
If our schools lose more than a fifth of their budget, what are the chances that they will be able to turn out the kind of people that major employers would want to hire? Certainly they are lessened.
And if our schools were to lose more than a fifth of their budget, what is the chance that entrepreneurs, whether home-grown or looking for a place to land, will want to locate here if they are thinking of their own family? Who wants to send their children to schools without music or art, sports or up-to-date textbooks? Where the classes are larger and there is no counselor support for college-bound seniors?
Who indeed? Certainly we, as a community, recognize that we deserve better than that, and our children deserve better. If we are intent on investing to create a brighter future for Grays Harbor, surely the most obvious, most elementary investment we can make is in our children. That is why our organization supports voting “Yes” for all our local levies.
Tim Gibbs is CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, Inc., your regional Economic Development Council and Chamber of Commerce.